is the new world rising from the shambles of the old?
She left early in the morning, when the Anor was too groggy to argue. A hitch to her plan was the fact he slept beside the mare, but with some gentle prodding to his still slumbering mentality she easily weened Lirael from her master's grip. The buckskin was eager to gallop and run wild at any hour of the day, anyhow, whether that was with the golden scout or her new snowy-furred jockey.
And ride they did, to lands perhaps unfamiliar to Lirael but very fresh on Fennore's mind. She and Tamlin had visited them recently on a scouting trip, but it was not the new northern lands they discovered — rather, it was a wolf. He... had his quirks, surely, but he had helped the Moonwraith with her barely healing injuries, and she couldn't mark against him for that.
They had arranged a meeting place, the field where she and the scout had heard his solemn, warbling melody moons ago. While she had left the other male behind, she was certainly not alone, what with Lirael and even Macha accompanying her this time around. She had hesitated to bring the kitten at first, but even if she had left her in the care of Tamlin, he was too drunk from sleep to keep her from just padding after her mistress anyway. So just bringing her along seemed the only option, adventurous and curious a creature as she was.
Macha had asked in her own broken, kittenish way where they were going, and the she-wolf told her in no certain terms. It wasn't as if the feline could understand half of what she said, although she was always learning. "A friend lives up here," she answered flippantly, but the term was perhaps too generous now. He had assisted her, yes, but still, she didn't really know him. The coal-pelted man was rather wary of his new acquaintances, still cautious to let them into his life fully — and that was fine, Fennore supposed. Eventually he would either come around or he wouldn't. But ignoring his presence there would do nothing to push the former.
Of course, not only did she seek to visit Bellad, but the scouting from days before remained incomplete. He had slowed their progress, changed their course; they would return another day, Tamlin affirmed, and return she did, though he slept through the budding dawn none the wiser.
Her slender hands, free of the horrid dressings finally, pulled the reigns gently, and the horse stopped short of the bridge. Macha wriggled from the saddle bag and looked with huge, questioning jade eyes at the woman. "Fen? Oh?" she mewled curiously, and the female in question lowered her hood to fluff out her fiery locks.
"Be patient and you will see." She lifted her muzzle to the sky, taking a deep breath and crooning a smooth, summoning tone. The howl wasn't extravagant or brandishing, but rather clinical and to-the-point. He would know who it was and know it was an amicable call. But now it was a waiting game to see if he would heed it.
“You should answer…” The large Luperci said quietly. Bellad had just removed the crudely crafted clay drinking bowl from his brother’s mouth and now stared at him in response. “The call…” Ierian continued, “... one of our guests from the other day, is it not?” “Your need is greater than theirs.” Bellad interjected. Indeed, there was nothing that spoke of distress in the distant call that came from where he last met the two scouts. He was about to reach for one of his medicine pouches when the large, scarred hand of his brother landed on his wrist. No force, no threat, but a physical contact that perhaps urged the younger Songthorn to listen more closely.
“Enough, brother… You know full well those pouches have run empty now… Scraping at them until you claw holes into them will put no new herbs inside. All that can help me…” And the older Luperci gestured towards the door. “Is there. Answer the call… See what you can find, whether ally or cure…” His words were uttered in a nurturing tone, almost as though it was Bellad in his care and not the other way around. The younger brother sighed, briefly closing his eyes, then finally responded with a nod. He was reluctant to do anything that could betray their dire need to outsiders, and yet alone there was only so much he could do. Even as his gradual sweeps of this new territory were growing wider and wider.
“I won’t be long.” He promised from the doorway. He would set out, as the last time, in his Secui, practicing the transformation frequently for both ease of movement and to hone the speed at which he could change. Now quadruped, he ran a slight distance away from where he and his brother resided. He did not want to help pinpoint the location by answering a call immediately from the door. And yet answer he did. His hauntingly beautiful howl was, perhaps, somewhat more full of spirit, simply because such was the way he was taught. It had a melodious quality to it, but felt natural rather than a deliberate show of talent.
It will have been a few minutes before he finally reached the bridge over the river and from there saw one of the guests he’d entertained a few days ago. Only one scout this time, and yet something about her bewildered him. Bellad had smelled other creatures on her early, but now he could actually see them. She was atop one beast and he felt there was another close by. Not bothering with ceremoniously changing into Optime before her this time, he moved forward and circled the horse and the rider curiously. His dark muzzle was set in a calm expression - no hint of tooth or growl.
“You are here.” He spoke slowly, thoughtfully, as if trying to mask puzzlement with contemplation. “You come alone, without… Tamlin, and yet with beasts?” He might have guessed from their first encounter, from their clothes and their hunting tools, that these Luperci had strange customs and traits. This too was certainly new. At least he was intelligent enough to understand that all the girding on the horse was too much effort merely for it to be eaten. “What is your need then? Does your injury yet ail you?”
His response wasn't immediate, but many things about Bellad seemed deliberate, as far as Fennore could remember. He was cautious around her and Tamlin when they first encountered him, and she did not expect this to be any different. And yet he still made her wait, which caused a bit of anxious and impatient energy to shudder through her body all the same; she took to undoing and rebraiding her hair, a more practical dutch braid down the side in lieu of her more ceremonial, flowy locks from before. And even still he had not reached her when she had completed this task, but at least she could see him clearly now across the way, making his way to her on all fours.
Her eyebrow arched as he circled her, but she remained silent as he went about his wordless investigation. Had he never seen a horse before? Bellad did seem rather... backwards... in some regards, anyway. His knowledge of medicine far outweighed her own, though, so in a way it made up for his lack of civility. She met his even gaze with her own, and Lirael shifted on her feet anxiously, the quiet encounter a tad unsettling to the mare.
"You are observant," she stated, deadpan, at his succinct and obvious contemplations. One slender leg swung over the saddle, and the white vixen dismounted the buckskin to face the quadrupedal man head-on, though her modest height held a slight advantage over his in his current form.
Macha again writhed within the saddle bag, mewing and demanding release from her leathery confines. With rolling eyes, the white wolf plucked the feline from the saddle, placing her on the ground nearby Lirael. The kitten stared, slack-jawed and wide-eyed at the dark wolf, but as she moved to go sniff him the Moonwraith clicked her tongue, signalling for her to remain by her master's side. She meowed softly in protest, though her pouting was soon forgotten as she rubbed against the woman's leg and purred with content.
"This is Lirael, Tamlin's horse." She motioned to the mare, who snorted upon hearing her name. "And this," Fennore reached down to lightly tap the kitten's back, which arched upon the touch, "is Macha."
Purple eyes flicked back to orange. "There is no immediate need," she answered, her hands crossing over her bust. "I simply sought to... check up on you, considering you are our neighbor." A beat. "For now."
She still had a feeling, however small it was, that he would enter their humble fold one day.
Brushing past this implication, she continued. "Fortunately, your salve has remedied me, so I am healing now." Her hands curled and unfurled, and she felt the scabs bend under the pressure, though they did not ache nearly as much as they had before Bellad's ministrations.
Her gaze wandered to the lands beyond the man, and she nodded to them thusly. "What lies beyond this bridge, physician?" A giver of titles, this one in particular Fennore was interested to see how he received. "I have heard talk of those lands being abandoned — pack territory long since forsaken." Asura popped into her mind briefly, even though their encounter had been months before. But Fennore knew that the pale female had lived around here somewhere; perhaps past Bellad's supposed claim?
As she turned to dismount, Bellad ceased his circling and sat on his haunches, with ears perked up. Fiery orange eyes glanced at her as she introduced her non-Luperci companions. While the purpose of the horse he could reason, the smaller being still seemed something from the realm of the strange. It mewled and stared at him, although readily abandoning its movement towards him at its master's command. Trained, or smart enough to be negotiated with? "I see..." He said simply, sniffing at the unfamiliar feline scent. The Caledonians were no doubt a curious bunch.
Fennore continued to speak and Bellad watched near-statuesque at first. Then he stood up and took a few steps forward, shoulder muscles rolling under both the burned and the fur-covered shoulders as he moved. His approach was slow and he did not entirely close the distance, but he tilted his head and sniffed at Fennore's hands. He did bring himself somewhat closer to the kitten, albeit unintentionally. "Good. I am pleased by the signs of your recovery." He continued after his cursory observation. It was at that point that Fennore indicated the lands beyond the bridge with a nod. His head turned slightly, his nose and ears meeting the breeze heading from the North, carrying sound and scent.
"Beyond..." He began as though the start of a story, but he closed his eyes when none took root in his speech. "I know fairly little. There is an old quiet place, decrepit, steeped in old spirit. There is a hole where unfortunates fell and perished, old enough to be bleached down to bones. No food, no root or herb. Water is the only abundance." He fell silent and the faint warble of running water from the river emphasized his point. "Further still I have only hunted, but I saw structures, man-made. No sound, but there our brethren once must have roamed. Their scents and trails are faint. Something made them scatter. Had they been here still, surely I would have seen one... Or perhaps been visited."
His head turned to Fennore and her little four-legged retinue again, eyes keen and vibrant with color. "There could still be something, but I have not yet made discoveries... I assume, neither have you?" He could have paid more attention and he could have gone further out, but always he would return to the Reservation. Even an outsider could presume Bellad would have seen more in the time he's been here, had he not been otherwise preoccupied.
He sat, pensive, considering the two foreign mammals the pale lady had brought with her. Macha, though restricted from interacting with him further, still watched him with her huge emerald eyes all the same, her gray tail twitching behind her anxiously. Fennore gave a brief nod at his observations regarding her healing palms, and as he had drawn slightly closer to the trio, the small kitten grew more antsy, eager to introduce herself and beg for attention from the male.
Purple eyes narrowed at the restless creature before they darted to Bellad's, a silent question as to whether or not he would care to entertain Macha for even a brief moment; wordlessly, she reached her foot out to poke the cat in the side, and with an excited mew she padded closer to the interesting new stranger.
She considered his words carefully, gaze drifting between the beyond and her acquaintance as he spoke. A soft "hmm" emitted from her lips before she lowered her muzzle slightly.
"Bellad," she started, a curious lilt to her tone. "You have resided beyond this bridge for some time now, yet you have yet to fully explore these human settlements?" Her voice lacked sharpness or accusations, but she was somewhat surprised he had stuck close to the Reservation and little else. Surely he would have been curious before now? What kept him planted in place? Perhaps he wasn't the adventurous type, instead choosing to stay comfortable in what he knew...
Whatever the case, it seemed a perfect situation for them both. Her ears flicked at his query, golden rings chiming softly. "You are correct." Her head tilted at him slightly. "Surely you wouldn't be opposed to us discovering what lies there — together?" There was purpose to her tone, and it was much less of a question and much more of a polite imperative. "I know not of what could have triggered their exodus, but perhaps they have left remnants of their groups regardless."
It was a long shot, but they wouldn't really know unless they looked for themselves. Besides, even if it ended up being a bust, it was still an opportunity to learn more of the healer; as intriguing a character as he was, Fennore found herself wanting to decipher him as if he were a puzzle. A man of burns and ash, he was so familiar and yet so distinct from the other refugees of Caledonia.
In turn, the interesting stranger allowed himself to be examined by the feline. In fact he went so far as to demonstrate that he was not beyond a living being's reaction. While at first content to merely observe her impassively on approach, something seemed to stir about him. Perhaps a reminiscence of how he or someone he held in high regard would act towards those smaller and weaker than a Luperci. So as the kitten stared up at him, he leaned down, lightly nuzzling in response to the curiosity, a mere nudge accompanied with the warm breath from his nostrils shifting her fur. Still, he wouldn't go so far as to lick her or show any other displays of courtesy or affection. Fennore spoke and her words demanded attention.
Of course she was on to him and it was clear that the once burned Luperci was wrestling with himself at her speech. Doubt, contemplation, deliberating something known only to him. She was not accusing or demanding, merely sharing her observations. "I... needed a quiet place..." He begun, carefully weighting his words. The kitten at his feet was given free reign to walk about the seated wolf, the small display of attention from a moment ago abandoned in favor of conversation. "Exploring alone would have been dangerous. An unknown settlement has many blind spots from which to be approached." The words felt appropriate to him, honest, believable, reasonable even. And yet, in some small way, his proclamation predetermined where the conversation went next.
Discovering what lies in the settlement together? He turned his head in its general direction as if for some answer, if only in the form of a cryptic sign. It was not a bad offer. And while he might have weaseled his way out of further cooperation under different circumstances, his own insistence that the danger of exploring unassisted served as the only deterrent would have made refusal suspicious. And suspicion was something he could most certainly do without. "I agree." He finalized at last, the glance of his emberlike orange eyes returning to the Caledonian scout. "If anything was left behind, it could prove useful to us both..." Bellad murmured in further affirmation.
Finally the Luperci stood up to his four feet. He would continue the journey in Secui, to be more evenly matched to the pace of the mounted Luperci. Bellad gave the scout a few moments to get back in the saddle and collect her feline companion. Then he stepped onto the bridge and, once across, trotted to the East, keeping the tranquil reservation to his left and the river to his right.
He seemed to warm up to Macha with a bit of prodding — something the gray feline was especially good at. She happily indulged in the nuzzle, her little nose crinkling and taking in his scent as he breathed on her. She mewed excitedly and shifted on her paws, antsy, even as he drew away, and Fennore cleared her throat to grab the creature's attention. "His name," she started, emphasizing the buzzword, "is Bellad." Macha seemed to consider this for a moment, brows furrowing, before she looked to the man again and tried the new name in her mouth. "Bel... lad," she mimicked carefully, looking to her master for approval before saying it again. "Bellad!" The kitten was quite proud of herself, moving to rub against the secui even as he had moved from her side.
Bellad was cautious in his answer, and Fennore hung onto every word, digesting the meaning of his reasoning as best as she could. It... seemed reasonable, she supposed. Regardless, she offered a vague nod to his explanation, her shoulders rolling in an indifferent shrug. Even if he were lying, what would he have to gain? If in some twisted way this were an attempt to get her alone, she had her steed to rush her to safety, so the Moonwraith saw no reason to doubt him entirely or use his carefully-crafted response against him.
Her request was agreeable, as she knew it had been. He stood and gave his word, and without any further deliberation the she-wolf returned to her mount, swinging into Lirael's saddle and looking to her cat in a silent beckon. Macha gasped, pleased to be taken on another adventure, and jumped up onto the saddle as well — though she was quickly relocated to the saddle bag, where she would ride more safely. The woman's eyes gravitated to his again, and she blinked.
"Lead the way." And with that, the odd company of equine, feline and lupine began their trek.
And lead them he did, never leaving their sight, moving with purpose along the river. His pace lead Fennore's horse more to a brisk trot rather than an outright gallop, as though to compromise between speed and obscurity of movement. Furthermore, he never entered the denser growth to their left, surrounding the Reservation. Perhaps it was to make sure she'd have an easier journey on horseback. Considerate or, perhaps, secretive yet again.
In sight, but devoid of prying comment or a steady glance on his non-verbal messages, Bellad pondered and considered their exchange thus far. He had managed to indebt, at least to some extent, this female and, though less directly, her Caledonian brethren. She came to him whilst calling from the proper spot, in a way that he had previously established. With her following every step of their agreement, was he wrong to continue with his half-truths and his plays on words? A figure grew in his mind, that of a Luperci far larger than him, far more wounded than him too and confined, if only for now, to a forced rest. Once strong, now helpless, thoughts of his sibling burned stronger, more painfully than any wound suffered from the flame. Of course he had to hide him. Of course he had to make sure he'd be safe. Could there be any other priority or indeed any concern more dire? The latter Songthorn aided the first born Songthorn.
He accelerated, picking up the pace, taking them further from their temporal place of rest, yet closed to where on the horizon there were sharp, geometrical shapes. Sloped roofs in the distance. He stopped and sniffed the air. Luperci scents didn't last this long, even if once they were abundant here. He knew there had to have been some, but now there were none. As if confirming the only fresh smells were their own, he gestured towards the buildings and began moving again. From here the path forward was more obvious. So he leveled with Fennore's steed and trotted on the same level, making conversation possible.
"The supplies of your brethren - had you any luck finding more?" A poor attempt, perhaps, at small talk. Yet certainly one that touched on a subject of import.
Their walk was mostly silent, both parties seemingly caught up in their own thoughts as they padded along. It was hard to read Bellad, she had come to find; whereas with Tamlin where his emotions were so clearly displayed on his golden muzzle, the dark Luperci kept to himself very well, which is what she had come to expect from the somewhat secretive and sometimes cryptic male. But he hadn't seemed to harbor any hidden intentions that conflicted with hers so it didn't seem something she ought to readily criticize.
Soon shapes began to form in the distance, roofs and the edges of buildings — a town of human construction, if she had to guess, but as they drew closer the origins seemed more dubious and less concrete. Bellad pulled back from leading to walk alongside the mare, and Fennore rolled her shoulders in a shrug.
"It would appear that our numbers grow by day, however small," she answered, though the answer initially seemed to dance around the question. She continued as she spared a glance to the Songthorn, "With every new Luperci that joins our throng, our stores also swell in abundance, however slowly. But we are still leagues from indulgence, I'm afraid." Again she shrugged, squinting her eyes at the buildings. "Trips like this also serve to gather more materials, though the success of which is less secure, I suppose."
She quirked a brow at him, turning to look at him this time instead of casting a side-eyed glance. "You are still welcome to join us," she reminded Bellad lightly. "Even if our company is humble and the supplies less so, you would certainly benefit from it in lieu of solidarity."
He drew in the scents coming from the still-distant settlement and peered into the distance, his ears twitching slightly as they adjusted to every which sound. It was fairly quiet. Not the disquieting silence of the Reservation he and his brother had breached, but quiet enough that there weren’t supposed to be any wandering Luperci where they were heading. The two of them, with their conversation and their mutual goal, seemed the only sources of disturbance here. Unless of course someone was waiting in silence.
You are still welcome to join us.
His brother had pondered the same thing. Whether the encounter with scouts from a pack meant the siblings no longer had to rely only on themselves. Hopeful, just as Bellad was suspicious. They knew, for now, of him, the burnt healer who took shelter in the Reservation. That might have dictated courtesy. But were they to find out of the other, of the helpless one, could he rely on their courtesy not to transform into exploitation?
You would certainly benefit from it in lieu of solidarity.
When he spoke, he tried to sound as impassive as always. His scent was still that of a careful and guarded Luperci, but at least his manner of address would not paint him as considering the offer insulting or diminishing its significance. “You extend the offer with confidence, Fennore… You are certain your alpha, your…” He paused as if recounting the unfamiliar term, “... King would welcome strangers? When you speak, can you speak for all of your Caledonia?”
As they spoke, he continued to move, slow and easy to follow, pace easy to match so as to continue their exchange. The figures grew closer, soon beneath the paws and hooves of the two travelers they will feel the old roads of the settlement. He paused momentarily before entry and his companion could see his body shrink down over the course of a bit over a minute. Soon he was in his Lupus form rather than the imposing Secui. A lithe black wolf, though the burns remained ever-present.